School finds positive approach to classroom management yields 97% suspension reduction
Renee Canales, principal of Betty Best Elementary School in Houston, and Elizabeth Merwald, the school’s behavior and prevention specialist, shared with eSchool News classroom management and student behavior strategies they have used in their high-poverty Title I school to, between 2014 and 2018, reduce office referrals by 37%, in-school suspension days by 52%, and out-of-school suspension days by 97%, while also increasing passing rates on state-administered tests by 17%.
The school began to improve classroom management by implementing Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports and incorporating the CHAMPS framework from Safe and Civil Schools, a proactive approach that teaches responsible behavior. It also began tracking student conduct by using a classroom management app called Kickboard to gain a better sense of each student’s behavioral strengths and weaknesses.
- In addition, leaders set up a school-wide 3:1 positivity ratio goal to encourage teachers to recognize at least three positive behaviors from a student for each one they correct, as well as to acknowledge positive actions by rewarding students with incentives. Finally, teachers regularly discuss classroom behavior data in meetings and use it to determine topics for professional development.
Student behavioral issues affect more than the students themselves. It either boost a school's climate and atmosphere, or it can disrupt valuable learning time and hurt the environment for everyone else in the classroom. And while office referrals and suspensions were once a more standard disciplinary method, there are increasing concerns about inequities between certain student populations. These woes have spurred a need for collecting more data on school discipline issues and how they are handled, as well as a need to revisit current policies and practices.
Data collection can not only identify racial disparities in discipline practices, but it can also be valuable in determining which teachers encounter more issues and what types of issues those might be. Understanding student behavior patterns can also help reveal to educators insight into what discipline approaches best work in various situations. And from there, results can lead to appropriate mentoring or professional development to start address these problems.
Generally, positive approaches to discipline can have a greater impact on school culture. It is important that teachers try to provide as much positive feedback as possible, and that schools reward positive behavior to encourage it in the future. However, some argue this doesn't always work and that schools need to consider other students' needs as they establish disciplinary practices. In a controversial opinion piece published in a South Carolina newspaper, Jody Stallings — director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance and a former Charleston County Teacher of the Year — wrote:
"I propose for teachers to start keeping records of exactly how much instructional time is lost — not by disobedient students who are suspended, but by innocent children who have to endure their oppressive behavior." He also referred to severe or continuously disruptive school behavior as a "crime" that "steal[s] the educations of innocent children" and "rob[s] schools of good teachers." And, he added, increasing suspensions will not only benefit a misbehaving student's peers, but it will also make "students realize that their actions have consequences."
It's clear that there's still disagreement over how educators should approach these issues, and finding the right balance can be difficult. But establishing clear ground rules, teaching social-emotional learning skills and reinforcing positive behavior to create a positive school culture are great places to start.